Some of the best shots of Manchester can be taken from the most unconventional of locations. So, despite his fear of being collared as a terrorist (more on that later), Dan Feeney heads skyward to create his alternative guide to photography in Manchester.
Shudehill is our starting point for this tour of Manchester’s prime spots for photographers seeking a new view of the city, and it’s all thanks to The Guardian’s recent Manchester TwiTrip. This trip uncovered one of the best vantage points in the city centre: the top floor of the Shudehill Interchange. From atop this car park you can enjoy an unexpectedly great view out across Manchester for free, rather than paying for your 15-minute view of the Printworks’ roof from the Manchester Wheel.
The best view is looking out away from the city centre, with the rolling hills that lie out towards the north emphasising just how close city and countryside actually are. Yet standing between the Peaks and the city is that symbol of Manchester and its regeneration – the tower crane, here working on the armadillo-like new Co-operative building. Indeed, the roof of the Interchange would be a great spot for charting this new addition to the city centre.
From Shudehill, it’s but a short stretch of the legs to another unusual vantage point. The Manchester Arndale Car Park is fast becoming one of the favoured photo-shoot destinations for bands and hipsters, with the backdrop of the Northern Quarter offering creative distinction to said head shots. Yet the true highlight are the shots that can be taken of the Arndale Tower itself, as well as the aforementioned Manchester Wheel and Urbis. In terms of composition, by wandering around the roof of the shopping centre photographers can bring these iconic buildings into view as their muse, manipulating them and the minute differences of shadow and glare offered by the ever-changeable weather.
Leaving the heart of the city behind, a short walk to Charles Street brings another aspect of the city into focus. For such a compact city centre, Manchester is home to a fair number of train stations. If you include Salford Central Station, there are five within walking distance of each other (and there may be another soon – plans for a new station by Manchester Central have apparently been proposed). With this in mind, surely any documentary photographer should capture the view from the Charles Street/Sackville Street Car Park, which is positioned almost on top of the railway line between Piccadilly and Oxford Road stations. The view back to Platform 14, taking in the corner of the University’s Sackville Street Building (UMIST, in old money) is a nice juxtaposition of red brick and plastic, whilse the view along the line to Oxford Road captures the Palace Hotel rising up out of the train line that once fuelled the decadence therein.
The final stop of our tour offers possibly the best view of all. The Oxford Street/Great Bridgewater Street Car Park, probably better recognised as the one above the Tai Wu restaurant, affords photographers the chance to capture the old and new of the city, the pretty and the downright ugly. From here you can look down Oxford Street and onto Oxford Road, capturing the hubbub of city life flowing in that direction, before watching it trail off up Portland Street towards Piccadilly. Moving the frame up, the Town Hall, Town Hall Extension and Central Library are all eye-catching, yet some of the most interesting shots come from the blatant façadism that can be seen from this raised position. The chimneys rising over Oxford Street seem as brittle as Lego from this view, rather than dominating aspects of the skyline.
For all that these car parks offer fantastic views across the city, it’s worth pointing out that photography in such unconventional places isn’t without its risks. Having worked around these views in one morning, it was with surprise that in one of the final destinations a solitary car sat, engine on, watching, as I shot the city. It may have been nothing more than paranoia, but suddenly I was very aware that whilst I was capturing images of Manchester, NCP were capturing my movements across the city. Why should there be a sense of dread for someone taking images of public space? Tate Modern’s Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance and the Camera recently asked just this question. Closer to home, the Loiterers Resistance Movement constantly challenge what is deemed to be illegal within public space, and Redeye, alongside the increasingly forward-thinking CityCo, has been leading a campaign to declare Manchester a ‘free photography city’. So grab your camera and find out how successful they have been – and if you find yourself suffering from the same creeping NCP paranoia as me, let me know.
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